By SHANNON WATKINS
I have this thing where I like to eat summery foods in winter (salads of all kinds, fruit salsa, cold sandwiches) and wintery foods in summer (braised meats, stews, starchy foods). I’m fairly certain whatever this is will be given a clinical name, a pill, a fundraiser, and a celebrity spokesperson anytime now. Until then, it’s just my personal weirdness.
But this year, everything coincides perfectly: now that it’s spring, I long for hearty, warm food; but since winter is lingering like a clueless drunk houseguest, everyone else wants hearty, warm food, too.
I came up with this recipe, you will not be surprised to hear, last August down in Tidewater, where summer is not a season so much as an opportunity for spiritual redemption through enduring the kind of heat normally associated with dying stars, if dying stars were also humid and involved mosquitoes.
But it’s good right now and will get you through a persistent cold spell and, best of all, is remarkably forgiving.
Late Winter/Summer Soup
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
I medium-large white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 poblano chile, stemed, seeded, and chopped small
2 slices country ham, minced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika, smoked Spanish variety
1/8 tsp thyme
2 cans cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1 lb small yellow potatoes, chopped to bite-size chunks
1 pt water
1 pt chicken or vegetable stock
½ lb Surry sausages or other smoked link sausages, cut into coins
1/8 – ¼ cup cream or half and half
Heat olive oil at medium high in soup pot; add everything down to thyme and sauté until onion is soft and translucent. Add the beans and potatoes along with the water and stock. Bring to boil and keep boiling for five minutes, the lower to a simmer. Mash or roughly puree about half of soup (just sticking a plain handheld potato masher in the pan and squishing stuff around is fine). After about 10 minutes, tumble in the sausage. Keep simmering until the potatoes are soft and the sausage is heated through. Stir in the cream or half and half and serve.
This is a good soup for when you’ve called in due to the weather but are kind of distracted by things like your kids asking if they can pick the next movie from Netflix or your pets butting up against you for a cuddle or just the age-old question of whether to stay snowbound in sweatpants or pajamas. You can substitute or leave out various things, or put them in at all the wrong times. To wit:
You can skip the ham if you don’t have it. You can sub in another pepper if you don’t have any poblanos lying around, or skip than too, if you don’t have any, period. (The rule of thumb for peppers, incidentally, is that usually smaller equals hotter. Poblanos are big and mild; jalapenos, especially unseeded, are smaller and much more fiery.) You can go with plain salt and pepper if you don’t have the spices and herbs, or put in other ones you like better, though I recommend using the cumin. If the sausages you pick are already spicy or highly seasoned, you can definitely leave off the paprika. If you don’t have cream or half and half, add milk or just skip it.
If you forget to add something (ham, if you’re using it, or spices) in the sauté stage, you can throw it in later. If you screwed up and threw the sausage in during the sauté, don’t worry, it’ll be fine. You might even want to do it that way. Great Northern beans work, and likely navy beans as well. Surry sausage is the best but if all you had to hand was a package of Li’l Smokies, I wouldn’t argue with you.
A little chopping, and little sautéing, some stirring and keeping your eye on the pot, and you have a nice earthy comforting soup to get you through the last and worst of winter. Or, if you’re me, the hottest part of summer.